Episode 001: Pilot - Nia awakens to find herself trapped in a ruined city clogged with garbage. Who are the Afterpeople, and what do they want from her?
That was the write-up in the magazine. I've never been one to actually check upcoming television slots, not really one for television in general. In a Hospital room, however, you have a lot of time to scour all the details.
This particular listing was for a show called "Afterpeople". The title sounded vaguely like some sort of X-Men rip-off, and had it not been for the hours of lying in bed and waiting to heal, I never would've inadvertently memorized it.
Despite the late hour it aired, the show itself seemed targeted toward children, or at least family viewing. It was nothing I was interested in, but a quick trip through the channels proved to offer nothing of interest.
If I'd been more of a sports fan, I never would have watched this.
The live-action pilot episode was much like you'd expect, with an introduction of characters and setting and the overarching plot of an ongoing series.
"Nia" was a young girl, maybe ten to twelve years old. The premise of the series seemed to be that Nia and her father, a scientist, lived in a world like our own, but scientific research and technology were a bit more advanced.
Nia's father appeared to be perfecting a time travel device. He explained how this device would work in great detail, spewing forth a great flood of scientific jargon that seemed to serve no real purpose. Children and adults alike could not possibly be educated in any capacity by such high-minded gibberish.
Cutting to the chase, Nia surprises her father in his lab, causing the device to become activated by mistake. There's a flash of light, and then... nothing. Just a white screen.
The show actually spent a few minutes on this white expanse before degrading to the hiss of static. Then, the picture seemed to come in as if someone was moving the television antenna back and forth, trying to get the signal back.
The setting was nothing short of Hellish. Red-tinged night sky... hulking, abandoned ruins of sky-scrapers... and just garbage and rubble everywhere.
Nia climbs from a huge pile of refuse, soiled and bleeding from what were probably scrap metal jabs. She looked scared. Very, very scared... and disoriented.
She threw up twice, and as the camera zoomed on in the grotesque details, it didn't look staged.
Then, the "Afterpeople" started to appear.
It wasn't anything I was prepared for. The Afterpeople were large, insect-like creatures that looked a bit of like roaches. They had flat sort of bodies, long twitching antennae, and faces that looked like they were in the middle of a long, slow millennial drift between bug and human.
Nia froze as these things came out of the garbage... literally climbing out of the heaps...
Despite the fact I knew these were just very tall, very thin actors in convincing rubber suits, I felt scared, too.
The Afterpeople circled Nia and closed in on her. She screamed at them, just this inhuman scream that one makes when there's nothing to do BUT let out the loudest and more disturbing sound you can manage.
One of the Afterpeople cautiously approached the girl, keeping as much distance as he could while his antennae touched her forehead. She recoiled, seemed unsure of the creature's true intent.
"App," the roach-thing hummed, "Appa."
Nia looked at it quizzically.
"Apple," it buzzed, "Apple. Bo. Boad. Boat. A pera atta Apple. A person eat a Apple. A person float a Boat."
"You're learning to talk?" Nia said what I was thinking. It was almost unanimous.
The thing didn't answer. It turned away from her and busily scuttled among the other Afterpeople, touching antennae with them, after which each one it had touched went about contacting more of them.
The rest of the episode focused on Nia and the Afterpeople roaming the city, looking for her father. I knew right away that they wouldn't find him. You can't have a long-lasting adventure if you achieve the goal straight away.
And so, it was over. Nothing special. That night and the following day, I didn't even give the show another thought.
Episode 002: Settling In - Nia must make her way in the land of the Afterpeople, and they all have special presents for her!
I honestly didn't intend to watch the show a second time. I don't really even know why I did. I was flipping through the channels, and when I saw that red-tinged sky, I just put down the remote and that was that.
In the second episode, we saw Nia more accepting of her surroundings. With the help of several Afterpeople, she'd set up a sort of living space in one of the ruined buildings. The Afterpeople brought her things, but they seemed unable to determine what she might want.
A rotting teddy bear, a deflated ball, a tattered shred of trash bag with an interesting stain, a frayed and dirty wig... a section of a mannequin unceremoniously dragged in by its face.
At one point during what seemed like a drawn-out and pointless flood of "gifts", one of the Afterpeople brought Nia a human femur. At first, she took it in her hands, but as soon as the realization hit her, she shrieked and threw it to the floor.
The thing that brought it to her reacted with panic, circling the floor, the walls, the ceiling as it let out a series of whines.
"Get out!" Nia screamed at it, "Get out and never come back!"
The camera followed the terrified face of the Afterperson as it darted out of the room, then it cut to a bird's eye view as the creature continued down the street and into the distance.
This really disturbed and annoyed me. I understood why Nia was mad, and that she probably didn't mean it, but I didn't know why the writers would put in such a cruel scene.
I switched the show off.
The scene disturbed me so much that I dreamt about it that night. I basically dreamt I was there instead of Nia, and that I consoled the Afterperson as it buzzed and whined. I made everything okay, unlike her.
Episode 003: The Party - The Afterpeople throw a big party for Nia! She can't eat what they eat. Will she be honest, or just pretend?
The Doctors told me I was having complications. There was a really painful sore on my leg, and Nurses were coming by more and more often to check on me. Nobody would say it, but I knew each time they were relieved to find me conscious.
They'd walk in with a loud and cheery "Heeyyy...", and their false smiles would grow into real ones when I stirred or answered them.
I had obsessed over how cruel the last episode of that show had been. I couldn't think of much else, and, maybe because of medication, my thoughts were getting foggy. I was in a strange, hazy place between analytically disliking the scene and feeling like it had actually happened and I was really mourning a sad turn of events.
I don't even remember turning on the third episode, and if I did (if it wasn't a Nurse) I can only think I wanted to see if the previous problem had solved itself. Maybe I'd tuned out too early and missed the happy resolution.
The Afterpeople had miraculously cleaned a section of street and erected crude structures from rubble and trash. A stick figure made of bent and half-melted steel beams stood against the crimson landscape, and the Afterpeople proclaimed it to be a beautiful monument to "A Talk Mother".
Nia sat on a heap of trash, barely formed into a throne. She looked uncomfortable and disgusted, though everything on the show seemed... clean. The trash was free of maggots or ooze because it seemed like that had all come and gone over a long expanse of time.
Still, she was uneasy.
The Afterpeople circled and whizzed about before her, almost as if they were dancing, but their movements seemed random and dizzying.
"You see," called out one of the Afterpeople, "A very good design. A very smart."
I started to see it as the camera pulled back and upward. The insect things moved madly, angular legs sweeping and antenna fluttering. They circled and spun and moved in strange lines, but they never bumped into each other. They never even touched. At the far sides of the group, Afterpeople made identical movements. It was like a large Rorschach test made of excited bugs.
Nia didn't see it. She leaned her chin in her hand and pouted. Rolled her eyes.
"Look, you jerk!" I spit the words out like an angry drunk, "Look at what they're doing. They're doing it for you, and you're not even looking!!"
After a few more moments, they all slowed to a stop and turned expectantly toward Nia. She slow-clapped at them. Sarcastically. They seemed pleased nonetheless and all began touching antennae with each other.
The scene faded to black.
This was when it occurred to me that "Afterpeople", what I'd seen of it, had never been interrupted by commercial breaks.
The camera panned across the landscape again, but this time from a very distant location. The entire cityscape was ravaged, and... unlike most movies or shows you'd see... nothing moved, nothing fell, it all genuinely looked like something that had long fallen into ruin and was DONE collapsing.
The scene shifted to Nia once again on the throne. She looked really tired and cranky.
"I'm so hungry..." she groaned.
Of course. I'd never seen her eat anything, and what WAS there to eat? There hadn't been a plant or animal in sight except for the Afterpeople.
"A very easy to see." responded one of the creatures, clacking its mandibles with worry, "A problem!"
The creatures scattered, and fifteen to twenty minutes of the show focused entirely on Nia sitting there, trying to press her stomach as hard as she could, like she was in pain. She seemed to almost pass out several times, her head nodding sharply.
Finally, the things returned. They carried various objects just like when they'd brought the gifts.
Nia turned her nose up at almost everything, as would anyone. Congealed balls of unidentifiable matter, pieces of insulation, they just picked up anything that could theoretically be chewed and brought it back post-haste.
"I need FOOD, understand?" Nia snapped, "Like APPLE. Remember APPLE? Or MEAT... I need MEAT."
The Afterpeople exchanged looks. Even with their blank, armored faces and lidless eyes, they seemed concerned.
"A meat." they repeated amongst themselves, "When any has seen a meat and what is it?"
"What do YOU eat?" Nia cried out.
One of the Afterpeople slowly approached, once again toting the ball of matter. It was slick, glistening, like some sort of fleshy egg covered in patterns of what looked to be green and black veins.
She took the orb, desperation in her eyes, and she bit into its skin.
The episode abruptly ended.
Episode 004: That's Just Different - Something different is happening, and the Afterpeople are acting weird! Important safety tips!
I now had a sick fascination with this series. It was like watching a car wreck, where you can see the blood but you can't see the real carnage... so you crane your neck to look even though you KNOW you don't want to see.
You know you'll never be able to forget anything you catch a glimpse of.
I was still feeling like Hell, still in a vague stupor, and even though it made me feel physically sick to my stomach, I wanted to see where this show was going. I had a slight inkling that maybe they'd turn it all around and we'd get some sort of happy payoff... even though I knew that was unlikely.
As the episode description stated, the Afterpeople were acting weird. Very weird.
They scuttled and darted about as Nia tried to follow them, but couldn't pick out one of the identical creatures to tag along with. She was now a bit stronger but showing a clear look of being in a half-demented sort of shock.
"What's happening?" She demanded, repeatedly, her voice hoarse and cracking.
She coughed several times as this continued, and at one point her lip started bleeding without her even noticing.
"Be flat!" screamed one of the Afterpeople as it passed her by, "Get flat and BE flat in a while!"
She didn't understand, and neither did I. It was just insane to begin a television episode with everyone wheeling about in a frenzy, and I assumed the station must have started running the show at the wrong scene.
"Why should I?" Nia screamed, "Why should I get flat? What's happening?"
All the Afterpeople froze. Except for their antennae. Each of them moved their antennae in separate, opposite spirals.
One of them broke from the group and rushed Nia, headbutting her and knocking her to the cracked and blistered pavement. As she fell, all the others flattened themselves against the ground. They were way too flat to be men in costumes, and it was slowly dawning on me that for a while now I had been accepting these creatures as legitimate, living beings.
The Earth rumbled.
Nia tried to get up, but now the vibrations were what forced her to the ground.
"What's happening?" she yelled, her voice distorted and nearly drowned out by the rumbling all around her.
There was no reply. The picture began to blur, and the screen's vertical hold started rolling. I swear I could feel the Hospital bed shaking, though I told myself it was just my pounding pulse.
The show cut to shots of buildings... trash piles... the open sky... all the while the din of moving Earth erupted from the television speakers. I had to turn it down as the sound grew louder, fearing I'd bother other patients in the next room.
When it finally died down, when things returned to "normal", I turned it back up and just listed to Nia weeping and sniveling as she lay in a fetal position.
The Afterpeople all circled her yet again, moving slowly and sweeping their antennae over her small body.
"That is a flat time." said one.
"A flat time is you get flat," helpfully added another, "Stand and also it is okay."
After she collected herself... as much as she could, now, seeing that she was looking a lot like a husk of a person... Nia once again resolved to look for her Father. She delivered one of the darkest lines I've ever heard in what was quickly revealing itself to NOT be family entertainment...
"If I can't find Daddy," she wiped her nose on her sleeve, "I'll cut my own lousy throat."
Episode 005: A Look To Find - Many scrapings are undug amid the ruins. Nia can share one of them.
I was in a coma for a short while. Even now, I don't know how long. All I remember is dreaming about Nia, now I was helping HER, and then my eyes opened to a bright light and a crowd of people standing over me.
My head hurt. Everything hurt. I couldn't move or speak.
In my dream, I was walking through that red landscape with Nia, and the Afterpeople followed. Together, we made up a strange sort of "search party", beating on piles of trash, sweeping through buildings, calling out for Nia's Father.
Since they never gave his name on the show, in my mind we all called out that of my Dad.
Before the dream ended, Nia took my hands in hers. I was dressed in Hospital gown... she in dirty, bloody clothes, her face smeared and her eyes wild.
"If I don't get home," her eyes locked with mine, "You know what to do."
The last image I saw was a brief flash of the two of us... holding hands... splayed on the ground with our throats slit... shards of rusted, broken metal in our flesh.
The Nurses assured me, all of them assured me, that I'd be able to move again. The Doctor, a world-class asshole, undid all of this when he checked in and absently mumbled "What a shame." and "Another one we couldn't save.".
I guess he thought I couldn't hear him. But still.
One of the Nurses, my favorite, the only one who really talked to me like I wasn't a moron, left that damned show on for me. She'd even read me the upcoming episode blurbs while I screamed profanities at her in my head. She thought she was doing me a favor, but given the coma "visions" I'd experienced, I wanted nothing more than to turn it off.
I tried to will my arms to move... even just my fingers... but it was no use. The most I could do would be to close my eyes, and even then the audio would flow uninhibited into my consciousness.
The Afterpeople joined Nia in searching once again for her Father.
I knew it was pointless. SHE probably even knew it was pointless.
I don't know what the creatures thought. If anything. It was hard to tell if they had genuine ideas and motivations, or if they just fed off of whatever Nia was doing/thinking.
I got to see more of their world... more than I wanted to. Boiling, steaming ponds... vast expanses of bare, black soil... there was a huge chasm just outside the city that seemed to go on forever, and the Afterpeople wouldn't go anywhere near it.
"Stop to the hole," they urged, "A very bad inside that. A very bad and come up to eat a friend. Eat a friend and screaming and blooding it does for long."
Nia ignored them and looked over the edge, into the abyss. The camera switched between the impossible, dark depths of the chasm and gradually closer shots of Nia's wide, disbelieving eyes.
"This!" shouted one of the creatures.
Nia turned, as if snapping out of some sort of trance.
"This! This!" insisted an Afterperson as Nia sprinted toward it. She obviously thought it had something to do with her search.
"This and some of it." the creature gleefully opened its jaws and dropped a scrap of paper at Nia's feet.
It was a magazine cover, and on it was a picture of President Bill Clinton with the words "Commander in-" leading to a torn section.
"This is what, and now we're done." the creature twiddled its antennae, and others came in close to look at the item.
"What?" Nia shook her head, "No... No, that's not my Father. God, don't you even understand?"
A look of horror came over Nia as her face turned even more pale than it had been. She backed away from the creature and whirled around several times, studying the things that were vibrating their antennae toward her.
"You DON'T understand!" she screamed, tears in her eyes, "YOU DON'T EVEN UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR!!"
The camera zoomed in on the faded, distressed photo of Clinton, smiling, half his face gone along with the surface it was printed on.
I had no idea who he was, but not because I was only seven years old.
This was the year 1986.
Episode 007: Today Is Happy, Talk Mother - (No description)
It would still be weeks before I moved again, and the embarrassment of being tended to... made to urinate in one tube and eat through another... was still fresh to me. They had no idea, the Nurses, how much they had hurt me though they tried to be gentle... and it was a pain I couldn't even express, much less do anything to sooth it.
When Afterpeople started again, I actually wept out of fear... which in my state just seemed to mean my eyes were agitated and elicited no more consideration than some fooling with my eyelids and a few eye drops.
Nia was just sitting amongst garbage.
Her legs were just haphazardly jutting out at weird angles on the ground.
Her skin, which at the beginning of the series was just milky white, soft-looking, perfect like a little actress would be... her skin was now ruddy, blistered, and peeling like something was slowly roasting her.
She just stared... stared into space...
Stared at ME...
Her hands were folded neatly in her lap, and her bottom lip was black from the old, dried blood that had long since spilled from her face several episodes previous.
The Afterpeople just crossed in front of her... scurried to and fro, circling and climbing walls with no real purpose.
Then, a voice in the distance.
"A HAPPY DAY!"
Nia slowly turned her head, expression still vacant.
"A happy day, Talk Mother," cried out one of the creatures as it approached from a distance, "A happy day is you because of a THIS."
The camera was just above the ground, showing only the top of the Afterperson as it moved in front of Nia, who looked on indifferently. The creature was labored in its stride, moving as if carrying a great weight.
"Here this." it proudly proclaimed.
The camera cut to a full shot.
Lying at Nia's feet, with the excited Afterperson standing just over it, was the rotting, half-disemboweled corpse of her own Father.
"A thing from a hole looked away," the Afterperson explained, "When it looked, I looked, and then walked. Quickly walked and now to bring this!"
With no response from the girl, it just continued to elaborate.
"Here for you."
"Your thing you wanted."
Nia looked up from the corpse, to the Afterperson. It gleefully pushed the body toward her and backed away.
I closed my eyes. I shut them as tight as I could.
After that episode, there were no more. It didn't matter, though, even if I never saw that wretched monstrosity again, it would always be with me.
I would forever hear Nia chewing.
And every time that sound comes back, it takes everything I have to keep from slitting my throat.