Anyone who’s been online long enough knows the format of these things, right? You know how it all goes: someone remembers a TV show from their childhood, or they download a cursed ROM, or they find a video tape at a garage sale, and then something terrible happens. Do people even have garage sales anymore? When I was a kid my mom spent every weekend one summer going to garage sales to get me and my brother Ninja Turtles toys. They came loose in a big cardboard box we opened on Christmas morning under our plastic tree but I didn’t even realize they were used until decades later when she told me the story, which as an adult just made it all the more sweet — the image of her hoofing it around the city every Saturday looking for old Usagi Yojimbo or Slash toys because we couldn’t afford new ones was really touching.
Anyway, I’m getting distracted. The point is that we all know the format of the creepypasta by now. It’s become a genre unto itself, something safe like watching a horror movie where you might get frightened by a jump scare but you know deep down you’re going to be ok. Reading them online back in the early 2000s was different. You felt like maybe there was a slight chance some of these stories could be real back when you came across them on 4chan or Something Awful, back when the internet felt a little more strange on the whole.
People want there to be more mystery in the world, is basically my take. Even people who think of themselves as rational modern folk, some part of them wants to believe in things we can’t explain. But because of how essentially pessimistic modern people are, we can only really take this possibility seriously if the things that lurk just out of sight are horrible and dangerous.
I guess there’s probably a lot of people out there who do believe in miracles and angels and all kinds of wonderful secrets that shine a brilliant light into our dark world but for everyone who thinks they’re too smart or hard-headed to cop to that kind of shit there are stories about people just disappearing, about cryptids stalking through the night, about impossible spaces that boggle the mind. Remember in The Matrix when that agent guy tells Morpheus that the first matrix they built was a paradise but humanity couldn’t accept it? It’s like that.
Well, I can’t accept the concept of paradise or heaven but I do accept, now, that there are things out there we don’t fully understand. Maybe some of them are malicious and want to prey on our bodies and minds. But I know there are entities in this world that love us. Call them ghosts, guardians, whatever — they’re real. I know this because I’ve met one. It was named Friend Record.
Probably nobody but me even remembers the show. There are a lot of these weird regional Canadian kids’ programs from the 70s and 80s that nobody talks much about anymore. Most online nostalgia is US-centric and when Canadians do talk about it it’s usually oh, do you remember The Zone, PJ Phil and Snit the talking TV and those guys, or Brainwash on Saturday mornings with Shaun Majumder only he was going by PJ Ed?
But there were other shows, stuff like Putnam’s Prairie Emporium that for a long time I thought I just made up. That one was about an old general store out in Regina that had a time-traveling closet. Or there was all of Lois Walker’s work — she did this series of kids’ TV shows about creativity and reading and things like that. Most of those programs have been lost because they was shot on video and nobody really cared about preserving them back then.
One of these old shows, it was called Size Small. I had forgotten the name completely until I looked it up. It must have been at least a decade old already by the time I saw it and it felt like it was from another reality. I don’t remember much from my childhood, even up to my early teens — just little flashes, images. Who knows why certain things stick and others don’t. But seeing this show is one of my earliest memories. Specifically, there was this human-sized vinyl record with a big cartoon face dancing around and banging wooden spoons in time to a song. I barely even knew what a record was, and I don’t think I realized it was just a person in a costume. But something about that sight seared itself into my memory. It tickled something in my brain, seeing this big, circular, permanently smiling creature with these long, slender black legs.
After that I would get into bed and stretch my arms as far as they would go and grip the sides of my mattress and imagine I was hugging Friend Record. I would hug it and hug it and it felt like everything was going to be ok. My parents were splitting up and I was getting bullied at school and one of my grandparents was dying but in those long moments it didn’t matter, because Friend Record would keep me safe.
Eventually, as I grew older, I forgot all about it. Maybe I didn’t need it anymore or maybe I was just distracted by the pressures of growing up. But sometimes I would have dreams about a vast smiling face and feel calm and contented. In my waking hours I developed a fascination — bordering on obsessive — with seeing women’s legs in black tights, and wasn’t quite sure why. But life went on until one day, something horrible happened.
It was the middle of winter and my mom, my brother and I were driving to see her father out in the country. It all happened so fast. One minute I was listening to my CD player and staring out into the night as we made our way down a narrow old road. The next, I caught a glimpse of something — a deer, maybe — darting out in front of the car. My mom swerved to avoid it and the tires lost traction, sending us spinning off the pavement and down the side of a gully. The car flipped and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, it was still dark and my mom and brother in the front seat were dead, their bodies mangled in the steel and glass of the wreck as the snow continued to swirl outside. I was banged up but otherwise unharmed. For a while all I could do was cry as I shook them, begging and pleading for them to wake up.
Of course they didn’t. So I sat there, teeth chattering as I realized how unlikely it was that anyone would find me before I froze to death. My mom didn’t have a cell phone back then and I had no idea where we were — I just knew we were a long way from any kind of help in the middle of a Manitoba blizzard.
I was barely conscious when I heard it — a barely-audible tapping off in the distance. At first I thought I was imagining it, but it steadily got louder and louder, accompanied by a quiet flute playing a soothing melody. I crawled out of the car to see where the sound was coming from, and in the pale moonlight I saw it: a great black circle with a red center, a pleasant cartoon face, and two white-gloved hands tapping together a pair of wooden spoons. I remembered it, then — how could I have forgotten my Friend Record? My tears turned to laughter as it wordlessly danced and bopped, tapping those spoons together to the beat of the unseen music. It began to back away and I followed, my steps in time with the clear strikes of wood on wood.
We made it back to the road, and continued on down it through the storm until finally I saw lights off in the distance. All the while, Friend Record kept me going with those gentle taps. Eventually, I arrived at a small hospital and collapsed from exhaustion. In the morning, they told me I’d shown up by myself, frostbitten and near-hypothermic, and that it was a miracle I’d been able to find my way there through the whiteout conditions.
Maybe I was just lucky. Maybe my brain dragged that childhood image out of the recesses of my memory as a way to motivate me to live rather than staying in the wreck and surrendering to death. People have hallucinated stranger things, I know. But I believe that Friend Record was really with me that night. And why shouldn’t I? Humans have always believed in things bigger than themselves. We’ve imagined pantheons of gods fighting and struggling for dominance, ineffable spirits of stone and wood, devils and fairies that hide in our homes.
And our inventions have helped shape and spread these beliefs, too. The printing press allowed for the Reformation, and television built characters like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny into cultural icons adored by millions. The objects of our belief and attention take on lives of their own — and how could they not, invested as they are with the hopes and dreams of countless people?
But belief ebbs and flows. The old icons inevitably lose power and meaning as fewer and fewer people care about them. And then, there are those that never developed much of a following in the first place. Like with the old Canadian shows I mentioned — even on their own turf, they didn’t have nearly as much of a viewership as their American counterparts. Sesame Street beats Size Small every time.
Sitting right above the cultural juggernaut of the 20th century as it does, Canada has always struggled to maintain a distinct cultural imagination. People have tried, with CanCon laws and government grants, but the fact is that we’ve got a tenth of the population of the US, less than the state of California. The collective psychic real estate available to us, to say nothing of the economic resources, pales in comparison.
After all, what are our distinctive national images? Mounties? A chain of coffee shops started by a hockey player? As a nation we’ve produced a handful of small-timers, thin ghosts bobbing up before sinking into a steadily homogenizing cultural stew. But our little gods love us no less for their small stature. Maybe their relationships with those few of us who dream them into being are all the more intense and personal as a result. And if they have only enough power to appear to just one of us, once in our life, that can be enough.
I never saw Friend Record again, but I know it’s still out there somewhere. And sometimes, when the pressures of living weigh so heavily on me that I want to scream, that my mind drifts to the possibility of giving up and swallowing a bottle of pills, I do something that nobody knows about. I crawl into bed, close my eyes tightly, and I hug Friend Record, and I know that everything is going to be ok.