I’m a typical “child of the 80’s” now, but in many ways I was late to the game. I loved movies and cartoons when I could get to them. My parents’ marriage had its ups and downs, though, and so did our finances. If we had a TV, and I mean if, 90% of the time it was Dad’s choice what we saw. He’d flip to news even on Saturday morning. Especially on Saturday morning.
I don’t think Scooby-Doo was big in that era. I do remember catching glimpses of him, his relatives, and Shaggy in his “red shirt period” for a few weeks when I must have been around five. These streaks never lasted; after a layoff the cable was the first to go.
My point is, maybe I didn’t have the cultural awareness of Scooby-Doo, or even animation itself, that I was supposed to have before watching The Fifty Names, and maybe that makes me less than ideal as the person to tell you about this now-obscure entry in the series. Maybe that’s why it hit me like a bombshell. To this day I can’t be sure of exactly what The Fifty Names of Scooby-Doo was; was it just another cartoon, blown out of proportion by an outsider’s reverence? Have I warped it in hindsight? Or is it just what I have always intuitively felt it to be: a work of terrifying genius?
The Fifty Names is more than just an odd duck. You could call it the last “classic” entry in the franchise, premiering one year after The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo in 1987. Yet its existence has been hushed up. It’s absent not just from the public face of Hanna-Barbera (you can’t even find it on VHS) but from the cultural consciousness. No news source or archive lists The Fifty Names. No dedicated fansite, at least no site still in existence, even mentions it. It only aired once. And maybe none of that’s so shocking, given the disturbing nature of the beast in my memories. Something tells me that Hanna-Barbera was anxious to put this behind them. They knew what they’d done, and I believe they still know. Let me put it this way: you know something went horrifically wrong when the very next entry in the franchise is A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, a suspiciously complete 180 that attempts for comedy what The Fifty Names does for existential horror. And you know it’s serious when the Zombie Island special looks tame by comparison.
That I saw it at all is proof of some divine power. Sure, keep calling me crazy…you won’t be saying that when you’re done reading. Think about it: for three months I was able to watch anything I could find on cable. Thirteen weeks of my parents in the other room. Thirteen weeks of primetime movies, after-school specials, and the Saturday morning lineup. Which turned out to mean thirteen weeks of Scooby-Doo—all thirteen episodes, in their entirety. I was in TV heaven. Scooby was my gatekeeper, his show emerging around six—early as hell.
I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the opening was a clever nod to the classic second-series theme song. You know, the one from The New Scooby-Doo Movies. In both intros, eerie eyes open all around, accompanied by haunting and dramatic music. Then a voice (presumably that of the human members of the Mystery Gang, our heroes) lightens the mood by hollering, “Hey! Scooby!” But in The Fifty Names, there were two big differences. One: there was a translucent number in the lower-right corner that peeked out from behind the network logo. (Incidentally, I think the station was CBS, which made it creepier, since the eye was always watching.) Two: the gang doesn’t actually say “hey Scooby.” In this opening, we actually see the Mystery Gang as they say “hey,” but they don’t finish because the dog runs over and clamps his paws and legs over their mouths. He doesn’t look vindictive; he looks panicked, even deeply sad. The gang only manages to say “hey Scoo-.” And when they do, their eyes flit to the corner of the screen, just like mine. They see that the counter has gone down. And they’ve seen that Scooby-Doo is covered in sweat, not the sweat of exertion from running toward them but the sweat of fear. Everybody knows right away that he fears for his life.
That’s when you get the concept. The counter starts at 50, on the first episode. Each time “Scoob,” “Scooby,” “Scooby-Doo” or any related derivative is said, the number drops by one, and Scooby-Doo feels an ethereal chill run down his Scooby-spine. When the counter hits zero, something will happen. To conclude merely that he will drop dead is naive. That’s the best-case scenario. With all the terror in his eyes, you know that can’t be the whole truth. It’s amazing how much ten seconds can convey. This wasn’t just my first lesson in fear—it was my first in efficient screenwriting.
I’m sorry that we have to rely on the memories of my fifth-grade self. All of these episodes, even the ones I remember best, are riddled with holes. In fact, I made some of the holes myself, in my weakest moments. I’m not proud of the damage I’ve done. If I’d known then that the duty of recalling The Fifty Names would someday fall to me, heaven knows I wouldn’t have.
But I’m certain, without a doubt, that while the show threw you in, you were never lost. It opened not with an explanation of Scoob’s curse but in a traveling carnival, which, for reasons I’ll try not to get into, was kind of a brilliant choice. Obviously the dog was not his usual fun-loving self. How could he be? Instead, he’d taken to wandering between ring-toss games and cotton candy stalls. When he passed the caged animals, a lion growled, and he shivered and whimpered, but it wasn’t funny this time.
Yet for most of the first episode, there was the typical joviality and light humor from Fred, Daphne, Velma, and even his closest friend Shaggy. About two minutes in, Shaggy, rejoicing, found a cheesy snack bag on the ground, opened and half-eaten. What would he do in any other show? Call Scooby over. So he yelled, “Get a load of these munchies, Scoob!”
My heart leaped. The number fell to 48. The dog ran to him, heaving. He was coated in beads of sweat, but not from the run. One glance at his bony, haggard frame told Shaggy that no, calling him by his nicknames did not thwart the curse. The most striking thing about Scooby in that moment was his eyes: almost watery, almost bloodshot. When I recreate them in my mind, I never fail to cry. To this day I can’t figure out how the artists of Hanna-Barbera were able to stretch their limited time, resources and budget so far on the intricacies of what is, after all, a damned dog. All I can say is, it paid off.
The audience learned the rules of The Fifty Names right along with the Mystery Gang. The Gang would speak without thinking, or foolishly mention Scooby Snacks. Sure, the evil ringleader of the carnival cursed Scooby-Doo’s name twice, but when I realized at the end of the episode that his number had hit 43, my forehead felt hot. It was the beginning of a rage-induced headache that assailed me for hours. It hurt even to watch TV. As I languished in bed and stared up at the ceiling, all I could think about was how stupid the Gang had been. Everybody apologized and embraced him in the last shot, but that hadn’t made it better. If I knew that any word I uttered could put my best friend’s life in jeopardy, would I ever speak again?
As the series went on, anger fused with investment, even obsession. Some of the memories I have now were only resurrected by the disjointed chicken scratch of the composition books I was drawing in at the time. In one notebook, I mainly kept track of the countdown, writing huge and sometimes furious numbers that each required pages of their own. My other notes and complaints are mixed in with my then-constant sketches and comics, to the point that some of the references I made to The Fifty Names are buried even for me—basically, lost to time.
One story arc is as clear as day, even in my notebooks. Yes, you read that right…there was a story arc in classic Scooby-Doo. Well, this time I admit I might be too generous. It was less of a thread pulled evenly throughout episodes than an element introduced and left briefly to simmer before surging again to the fore. Whatever it was, the story of the old scientist in the castle ensnared my imagination. Even before his official appearance in the show, I would draw him scowling from balconies, arms folded, my paper crinkling as it devoured chunks of graphite.
In the fourth episode, the Mystery Gang investigated a creepy old castle. It wasn’t as old as it looked; it was a recreation built by a rich oil baron with delusions of medieval grandeur. The baron was always guarded and loudly suspicious. He seemed to think that everyone was after his fortune, even his older brother. (And as his maid, his wife and his own mother were quick to say, he had no brothers.)
The baron had asked the Gang to capture the latest threat to his stash of gold. The Gang, by this point in the show, was always serious. It wasn’t because the mysteries were any bit grislier than usual. Simply put, they knew death. They had seen what death is. Every Saturday they found it in the face—the name—of Scooby-Doo. All this to say that by now the only things you could call “hijinks” were Scooby’s skittishness and his emerging reluctance to trust anyone, marked now and then on him by the subtlest makings of a scowl.
The twist of the episode was that the baron was right, and thieves disguised as knights and a princess really were after his treasure…and that wasn’t even the half of it.
A bookshelf turned out to be a revolving door leading the Gang to a staircase, then a basement. The room was bright with electric light, as if expecting them.
Before they entered, Scooby peered inside and gulped.
But they walked in anyway. The room was massive, lined with books, monitors, and towering mechanical blocks that must have been old computers. It was a “science-y” room, dotted with desks of test tubes. Hence the epithet I gave the man in the portrait hanging on the back wall, even if he wasn’t wearing the classic lab coat: “the old scientist.” That portrait commanded the room. It was about as tall as Fred, hung up dead center. The man within wore a suit and bowtie. He was balding, bearded, stern.
Immediately below the portrait was what appeared to be a prehistoric tape recorder, one the size of a nightstand with the huge reels facing upward.
There was nothing to do but try the recorder. Velma tapped the playback button. I noted the count: 34.
This is something like what the recording said:
“I am the baron’s brother. This was your biggest mistake. Now I know where you are, and I will chase you to the ends of the earth. I will not stop until Scooby-D—“
—It stopped. Cut off. Shaggy had pulled the cord connecting the recorder to the wall. The number plummeted. 33. Scooby collapsed onto his side, weakened by the pang.
Fred sighed and shook his head. He said, “I’m glad you did that, but…well…we have to finish that message.” So Shaggy took Scooby upstairs. They had to get away from the sound of his name, but not so far away that the rest of the Gang couldn’t find them when it was over. He walked by his side, very slowly, whispering words of small comfort. We followed them out from behind the bookshelf in haunting near-silence. Then they left the room, Shaggy carefully pushing the bookcase back into place behind them.
As the passage clinked shut, Scooby dove onto the floor, shut his eyes, and slammed his front paws over his ears, cowering as if in the wake of an imagined bomb. Just as Shaggy moved to comfort him, out came the real bomb: Scooby’s otherworldly voice howling, “YEO-O-OWWW!” Flashing yellow stars flew from him. Somebody’s foot had smashed his tail. It was the baron’s.
He removed his shoe, but not without a finger-waggling tirade. He was berating the duo for their supposed laziness. He ended it with, “And I don’t pay you to sit around eating!” His victims huddled together, shivering. Shaggy started to speak up in their defense—but just then, the baron yelled, “What’s wrong with that dog!” “That dog” arched his back and bellowed. New sweat shined on his emaciated shoulder blades. Though no sound had been able to reach them from the basement, the number had fallen. 32. Final rule of the Fifty Names: it doesn’t matter which member of the Gang hears it. They are in this together.
In any other season, Shaggy and Scooby would be the epitome of sloth. In all likelihood, they would deserve these kinds of put-downs, despite all their heroism. But not this season. Yet I have an unnaturally high amount of sympathy for the two…and my heart still seethes from the injustice I see in the baron, still reels from the cruelty of the mysterious man who calls himself his brother. Still, even the baron had to congratulate his “lazy” helpers on a burglary well thwarted by the episode’s end. The old scientist? He never gave them anything. Not even an explanation. I eventually stopped hating the baron, but what the old scientist gives me to this day is chills, plain chills.
As far as I’m concerned, the fifth episode is lost media. I think it took place in a mall, but I wanted to forget because the gang lost Scooby in a pet store and the children bullied him. Mercilessly. This is the scene I drew in my notebook right behind the big number 28.
I’ve hated the fact that I remember episode six so well for years. That was the return of the old scientist…I couldn’t forget it if I tried.
This episode started out actually kind of cool. The Gang was passing through a ranch. Hanna-Barbera went above and beyond on the artistry of this one: the desert scrubland was beautiful, and we actually saw about fifteen glossy horses running around in one scene. The place was run by an old, tough couple. This time, the mystery was a chupacabra biting the hides of their animals. Amazingly for a kid’s show, we saw the bite marks and dried blood on the back leg of an ailing horse. That’s when Scooby-Doo reached around and hugged his own leg, beginning to weep. The Gang felt sympathetic towards him, but they agreed, with a little reluctance, to stay on the ranch overnight. Solving mysteries is their duty, after all.
That night, everyone discussed the chupacabra at the big dinner table: what they thought it was, when they thought it came. Scooby stood by the side of the table, only half-involved. He was hunched over a plate on the floor, picking at a double-decker sandwich. Suddenly the screen went white. Lightning struck. The room flashed, showing nothing—silhouettes—nothing, and then—the room again. But the room collapsed into panic. Because something was missing, something that had just been in plain sight: Scooby.
They scrambled. Shaggy went down one hall, Daphne through another, the rancher wife ran out the side door, Fred flew up the stairs. It wasn’t a big house, but confusion made it a mansion.
Velma opened the kitchen pantry, stopped, and screeched. Her eyes lingered not on some terrible secret on the shelves, but on the number in the bottom right. The count had dropped! 26.
That’s when the count started trickling down. Not hurtling…trickling. 25. And after eight more seconds of doors flung open, 24. 23. 22. As I watched all of this activity, my heart—no, my entire body was beating, pulsating with pure fight-or-flight response. I was on the verge of checking every room in my own house.
“I found him!” shouted the rancher husband over a boom of thunder, his body on a stepladder, his head in the attic. It could have been the voice of an angel. Quickly he pulled himself into the attic, and the rest followed as fast as they could.
They found a terrifying sight. In the middle of the attic, in a space apart from the boxes and dust tumbling from the walls, was a cage far bigger than both the hatch in the attic floor and the window pounded by rain. The dog was in the cage, grasping the bars with all four paws, still alive, if only with sheer adrenaline. And next to the cage was that old despicable scientist looking just like that portrait, who, I thought, had gone insane, because he was rattling the bars and shouting, “Scooby-Doo! Scooby-Doo!” And Scooby-Doo whined and cried as he jolted back and forth, looking like a ship in a tempest as lightning crashed and filled the room.
The count was 11.
The Gang and the rancher couple wasted no time. They pulled the cackling-mad scientist away from the cage and tied him to a wooden chair…but they gagged him sooner. They couldn’t risk him talking. Of course it was the ranchers who did the heavy lifting here, but I noticed Fred binding the wrists. I thought that was clever of the showrunners. He must know sailor’s knots.
Now Scooby cowered in the corner of this mysterious cage. There was no apparent way to unlock it, so the rancher husband assured the Gang that he would get his tools and try to bust it open. He climbed down the stepladder and would not be seen for the rest of the episode. Neither would Scooby.
Everyone else heaved the scientist down and out. The creepiest thing about him was his sudden composure. One moment he was crazy, bristling with noise, with strength…the next he had exactly the manner of a rock. It seemed to me that this man, even at this obvious nadir, was perfectly in control.
As the Gang discussed their future plans for the night, they sat on living room couches and set the old scientist to the side like he was a second TV set. Which was creepy, but in an airy, undefinable way. The man wasn’t blindfolded; he could see, he could hear. He scanned the room. He still seemed so capable.
The Gang wanted to arrest him. The rancher wife had other ideas.
Even she knew how dangerous the Fifty Names were. They all knew they couldn’t possibly let “that dog” die…at least, not that way. Once the old scientist was put in the prison system, eventually the gag would be removed. He’d be free to speak. And maybe the Mystery Gang wouldn’t hear it so soon—but the old scientist would get out eventually, and he did say he’d chase them to the ends of the earth.
So according to her, something had to be done. Violently.
If you’ve ever lived on a ranch, you know how hard life can be. You’ll have an easy time forgiving the rancher wife for what she then proposed to do.
I only remember some of the rancher wife’s exact words. She said that we all kill to live. “Even you know that, Shaggy. What do you think’s in your roast beef?”
And I thought chupacabras were dark.
The Gang is onboard a little faster than expected, and, I admit, this is where the episode lost me a little story-wise. At the same time, I can see how all the pressure of the past few weeks could have affected the teenagers’ minds, worn them out, and pushed them to do things they weren’t proud of. True to form, the episode kept the “human element”; Shaggy was not at all interested in murder. Really, he was indecisive. Still at that moral crossroads. I think I knew how he felt. I found myself awash in relief, but then came immediate shame and guilt, which made my stomach churn.
Fred suggested that they give Shaggy some time to “clear his head.” Everyone agreed. The old scientist observed from the corner.
“We could use some butter,” said the rancher wife as she looked out the window. Rain pounded the glass. “Would you ride into town and get some for us?”
The rancher wife gave him the money, plus some extra as a thank-you. As Shaggy went to the other room to find a raincoat, she asked the rest of the Gang to move the old scientist to the shed while she prepared the horse.
Cut to the rain, which was now washing over the desert in swirling sandy rivers, turning parched earth into mud. Shaggy had on heavy brown boots and a yellow raincoat that nearly glowed in the darkness. He had misgivings about the storm and the mud that almost swallowed his boots with every step, but he didn’t really question it. Why? I think that’s because his old vices were getting to him. The call of the supermarket and its food was too strong for him.
He took the reins of what the rancher wife earlier had called the fastest horse on the ranch. She helped him step up and over the horse’s back, gave him the reins, and bent in the mud to adjust something on the horse’s hind legs. “Horseshoes on,” she yelled over the rain. “No chupacabra bites here. Alright, Shag! Whenever you’re ready.”
Everything about his riding was as awkward as one would expect, and the weather only made things worse. He and the horse stumbled over sliding hills, almost falling forward into the muck. Once, they nearly rolled. The scene was so dense with rain droplets that they could hardly see their destination, let alone the ranch. And then, by some miracle, Shaggy almost got the hang of it and managed to launch the horse at full gallop through a coursing river that hadn’t been there that afternoon. He was thrilled; he even smiled.
As the horse scrambled up the opposite bank, something tugged hard at its hind leg and jolted them so hard that even Shaggy felt it—thought he heard a scream far behind them—but just as he turned around, his steed had freed itself and continued on its gallop, rocking his head forward again.
He never learned what got the horse, and he would never learn exactly what happened on that ride. As Shaggy rode on, the rope around the horse’s leg was loosening, and it finally slid from its hoof in the middle of a rocky outcropping. On one end was a weakened loop, and on the other, after yards and yards of rope, was a shadowed head long since emptied of blood, of life. It was the head of the old scientist, torn from his shoulders only at the river, when Shaggy was about as far from the shed as he could get. Soon his head would be swallowed by mud. Shaggy had been his witless killer.
All I can tell you about the seventh episode is that they managed to keep the countdown relatively steady. That week I wrote, “10. THANK. GOD.”
One thing was sadly immutable: the theme song. Every week, the Gang was doomed to say “hey Scoo.” They spoke as if in innocence, but after the second week, they knew what they were doing. Yet they went on saying it whether they wanted to or not. Like a deadly reflex. I remember sitting in front of the TV one Saturday and imagining I was one of the Gang during that theme song. And then I remember throwing up.
Actually, I endured a lot more vomiting than that thanks to The Fifty Names. I began to feel melancholy, depressed. It’s no way for a child to feel. I would daydream about The Fifty Names…and I didn’t do it because I wanted to, I did it because I had to. The sick spells got so bad that I was sent home on a Wednesday for it. A Wednesday. Do you understand the magnitude of that? Sent home in the middle of the week! Eventually I’d develop the deep respect for the Fifty Names that I stand by today, but back then, week to week, the show was as captivating as a heart attack.
The moment I glimpsed the theme song of the eighth episode, I crammed my fingers into my ears, shut my eyes, and winced. I missed the start of the episode because I had blocked it out for too long. That made me feel so guilty. Just as the Mystery Gang had a duty to help anyone in need of their services, the powers that be needed me to watch every second of The Fifty Names that they sent my way.
In this episode, the Gang took to the docks as a massive trash-collecting robot went haywire. Yeah, I know, it sounds a little silly even for this franchise, but I swear that’s what happened. The dock was choked in fog. A small ship the Gang was on suddenly found itself in a massive gust of wind. They were almost ripped from the shore.
Right after the wind calmed down, after they could stand on the dock again, the most disturbing part came seemingly out of nowhere. Daphne’s brow grew heavy. She looked down, she looked away. Then she mumbled, “I hope that wasn’t related to Scoob.”
The number fell. 8. His legs gave way as he wailed in anguish. He raised his head to howl, and I saw his throat quiver as his bony body clattered onto the planks like a series of logs. The Gang ran to help him, but Daphne was the straggler. She wasn’t really worried about Scoob. This was Daphne at her own crossroads. She was getting sick of it, sick of it all, and there seemed only one way to end it.
Would she ever go through with it? No, she wasn’t the one to end Scooby’s drama, but for a few episodes I saw in Daphne a depression magnifying my own, one that, for a moment, seemed powerful enough to destroy them all. FInishing this series had become a test of endurance for us both, psychologically and physically.
I remember a train station. The screech of the train pulling in. How sleek its hull looked that evening. How the red and blue lines streaking across it looked duller in the orange lamplight. The loading and unloading of baggage. Knowing that things were not right.
I remember this as episode nine. When I look back, I’m seeing the Gang stepping on the train and an attendant, benign, looking Shaggy in the face as he said, “No…dogs…allowed.” One of the passengers was at large. He snuck onboard.
But that can’t be right, because I remember this as the night my aunt and uncle came by to spend a few days with us. I know they came in those thirteen weeks, I’m seeing them in my head right now, in one instant, at the kitchen table with my parents…they’re talking about business…they’ve got duffel bags by their chairs.
After that, I remember a field of flowers. Blurry, bubbling, fairy-like flowers above grass that rises like an ocean tide to fill a TV screen. Or to fill my vision as I sit outside, having tea. Clearly my memories of the show have mixed pretty thoroughly with memories of my life at this point. This field of flowers may have been the tenth episode, but I don’t believe that so easily. It felt so safe and comfortable. It was like a spell.
The fortune-teller in the tent revealed something about the curse. Without a doubt, that happened in the eleventh episode. Could have been the beginning, the middle, or the end. What she said, I can’t know. I removed that from my memory. Tore it out.
My parents tried to make amends with me. They sat me down and said they were proud of me. Sorry for not being the best parents. Sorry for all the arguments. They said they knew it was hard. (How could they ever know how hard it was?)
Thanks for your patience. For hanging in there.
Sure do like having that TV all to yourself, huh?
My eyes brimmed with tears. None of this made me happy. Not their TV, and not their words. All the thanks and promises in the world can’t keep life stable, because something is always falling. Change is life, and change is persistent downward movement. Yes, I had the TV all to myself, and sometimes I had the whole house. There was more peace and quiet in our home than I had ever previously experienced. But this was a trick of the universe, a lull, and the lull itself was proof that something was going disastrously wrong in the lives of my parents, behind closed doors.
I’m lucky to have seen the twelfth episode, but luck’s not such a great thing.
This episode had a cold open. That’s right…no theme song. Even more astonishing, no number. The Fifty Names had taken the old rules away, swiping the rug from under my feet. There was no ground to stand on. I was lost, but only in the twelfth episode’s carefully constructed malaise.
I thought I was looking at a meeting in a large, off-white, clinical room. Maybe a lab. People were sitting at a long grey table. They didn’t dress like professors or doctors, but not like lay people either. Some had suits, and I think one was a soldier. I couldn’t get a handle on any of them, nor could I see more than one or two at a time. And the background was sort of fuzzy, as if all the objects behind them, the bookshelves and cabinets and the potted plant, were coated in dust and film. Above them, a ceiling fan whirred, filling each shot with a little white noise.
The camera angles kept changing. There were a few strange angles, too…I mean, strange for Hanna-Barbera. Like ant’s-eye view and shots seen as if from a security camera.
It took me a while to register that they were all discussing Scooby-Doo. Of course, they had to call him “the dog.”
Right as I made that discovery, I found something: the number in the corner. Yes, it had been there since the start of the episode. It was just more transparent than normal, which wasn’t helped by this murky whitish swamp of a scene. The number was 1.
—Wait. 1. 1? I was sure it had been higher than that at the end of the last episode. That composition book was right next to me. I flipped to the latest page. 4. It was 4. 4! It should have been 4! I could have accepted 3, but 1? Why 1? Had somebody said it while I was away? Had they said it offscreen? Had I—had I missed something?
I was clamoring for answers. The Fifty Names didn’t give me any. It was still a mild relief when I started seeing familiar faces at the table. As it turned out, the Mystery Gang, too, all of the human members, had been sitting there from the start.
This much I knew: they had gathered in this room because the curse was bigger than any of them.
And then, this much I heard:
It came from Shaggy’s mouth, which now hung open like a skeleton’s. His eyes, those pits, filled with loathing. But he looked strangely innocent. It had slipped out. Somehow it had just…happened.
I think they all knew he’d be the one to say it. I think we all knew, deep down…because the ones who never want to are the ones who hurt you most.
The ones who love you dearly make the tears come out.
We couldn’t even see the dog in his final moments. That was just cruel. You can’t understand how heart-wrenching it was unless you’ve seen the show like I have. You truly can’t… It was like my child had gone missing. The force of death without even the twisted satisfaction of knowing a semblance of the dead’s last agony.
The fan whirred. The only sound was white noise. I saw the other faces, their own lower jaws hanging under them. His guilt was their guilt. Guilt became them all. They looked as if they might have cried, but not because their eyes welled up, or because they were frowning, or anything simplistic like that. Their faces had been painted with a terrible pathos. Something in them had been wrenched.
I was overcome with a terrible wracking pain. My body heaved as the screen sizzled and faded ever so slowly. The TV’s light filled the room. It all became the color of lavender wet paint. The so-translucent 0 sat in the corner. The fan’s white noise hung in the air. I thudded on my side in the carpet of my living room floor, where, for the past three months, no real living had been done. I wanted to sob. I couldn’t.
With one episode left, the show had flatlined.
Instead of waking up face-to-face with my ceiling fan, I was looking up at my parents. This place was a little too white to be anyone’s bedroom. My parents were there. They weren’t looking at me. They were bickering over something, over my hospital bed. As I noted them, I became aware of rough linen sheets and the steady beep of an EKG.
But it hadn’t really started. The claws hadn’t come out. Their argument was mounting higher, though, so high I couldn’t hear the EKG amplify my own heartbeat.
Finally an unbridled scream—from me.
It stunned the fire out of them. My parents’ heads whipped around and they stared at me. Their mouths, their tight frowns, held only a shred of sorrow for me. Today they didn’t bother to hide their contempt.
Then I realized my heart was racing, pulsing so hard it battered my lungs and should have made my breath short. A doctor outside saw the EKG, came in. Dad saw the EKG, remarked that at home my heart rate had gone from nothing to crazy in the space of a half-hour.
My parents took me home. Time and space went a little wild. It was a long, amorphous day. It was the same day, wasn’t it? But why did my parents take me back to the seat of my trauma, my TV spot, the place where I had that heart attack, where before that I spasmed, went berserk?
I’m sure you’re saying, no, mindful parents wouldn’t do that. But I truly believe that my mother and father despised me. Hated. However their minds have changed now, they were not inclined to like me then.
It must have been the same day because the room was just as much of a wreck as it had been in the act of destruction—and the feathers and dust from busted pillows were still swimming in the air.
The blood matting the brown carpet floor wasn’t so awful, mainly because it had trickled and not gushed. It seemed to be blood from all of us. I had torn the thin white curtains apart and dropped the shreds. I had left fractured pillows on the floor to leak cotton. I had left a trail of broken glass that, when I traced it with my eyes, led to the fanged and gaping TV. There was a glint of ring-shaped metal on the floor, too. When I found it, I looked up; evidently I had tried to bring down the living room’s ceiling fan, too, but only got a lightbulb. (The fourth blade of the fan had been gone for years.)
But the most ghastly thing, or at least the most ghastly thing in that room that was physical and non-human, was the sofa. When I watched The Fifty Names, I never actually used the sofa. Instead I sat in front of it on the floor, sometimes leaning my back against it. That’s where I sat whenever I caught Saturday morning cartoons, because before The Fifty Names came along there used to be some magic in the idea of getting as close to programming made for me, for kids, as possible. So the sofa had no reason to be my victim. Yet I had leapt onto it, not the television, again and again, with feet, with nails, with teeth, and with more strength than one would think a child could have. The springs and the yellowed fabric of the interior were sticking up, wilting, falling down and becoming the outside. The sofa was hemorrhaging wood.
I’d gone crazy—my parents said I’d gone crazy—and they kept saying that word like they couldn’t believe it, crazy. They wouldn’t have hurt me if I hadn’t gone crazy. Of course I didn’t remember what I’d done, because I went so crazy in here. As they talked, I felt my eyes watering and touched my hand to my face, and traced the line of a strange scar that stretched down my cheek and over my jawbone. I was stunned. When had I gotten stitches?
That’s what really haunts me, the not-remembering. Both ways. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one out of the loop or the only one in it. Or the forgetter versus the forgotten. All bad. I can’t decide what’s worse, and that indecision is the story of my life.
By being silent that day and only listening to what my parents told me or said around me, I lost my chance to learn the exact truth about my stitches by asking. They did tell me this: that when Mom came in the TV was white; that the scream that summoned her had been “batlike”; that they tried so many times to hold me back; that they didn’t know I was so strong; that I went still in a flash, frothed at the mouth, and right then I hit the floor and I had no pulse; that TV privileges were over. I wasn’t told about the scar, but maybe my intuition was enough. Dad had used a knife before.
I can’t ask them anymore because they have torn this page out of their memories. How you can destroy the memory of the greatest grief of your living child, I’ll never know. The process started the moment they left the room, and it reached completion when, a week later, my father mentioned “that scar from recess.” I’m surprised I asked him what he meant; he never tolerated anything he saw as smart-assery. He pointed to my face and said, “You know what I meant.” And when I told him I didn’t know, he almost gave me another one.
You might be wondering how I knew there would be thirteen episodes and not twelve. Truth is, I didn’t. I had no TV Guide, no commercials, no nothing. All I had was…hope? No; faith. Looking back, I see that it was my faith in the showrunners, my trust that they wouldn’t let me down. At the time, it was me grasping for…for anything. It’s no exaggeration to say that watching The Fifty Names was my purpose in life at that time. How could he die unceremoniously like that? How could he just leave? The only possibility story-wise was, he couldn’t. Even a kid could see that.
That thirteenth week, before the hospital, before the rampage, before that liminal moment when my mother had seen me reeling from a white screen…yeah, that whole week was crazy. Once I received the bad news from episode twelve—that he was dead—I set to work filling scores of pages in my countdown notebook with ornate zeroes. I mean, ornate by insane fifth-grader standards. My initial zero, put to paper seconds afterward, literally ripped holes through the page, and my arm as I made it must have been a typhoon. So many wild pencil strokes went into it that the final product looked hairy. That calmed me down. Whatever space remained, I inscribed as carefully with zeroes as youthful impatience would allow. I felt somehow like an atoning monk. Surely he would come again. He was always in my thoughts, and so, from time to time throughout those days, I was overcome with tears. Oh, I was suffering…
Of course I went back for my weekly Scooby Snack; I needed my daily bread. I even woke up far earlier than I had to on the final Saturday. I set my alarm for four in the morning. Cereal poured while the moon was out. Do you understand how insane a kid has to be to put themself through that? I might be the source of the word “lunatic.” But I couldn’t miss a minute! I even remember the way I switched the TV on, turned the dial, and took my place in front. I didn’t hold on to the aftermath, but I kept this with stunning clarity, because I took pains to remember, because I had mustered such discipline. People can do amazing things on the brink.
There went the tail-end of the late night programs. Yes, the show would come.
Right at six o’clock, a commercial played. A little miracle! I’d never seen a Fifty Names ad before.
“And now,” said the announcer, “the final episode of The Fifty Names of Scoo—”
It blinked out. Everything…the voice, the graphics, the background music…cut off with a little click. What remained was brightness, but not pure white. Now the screen looked like a grimy projector backlight. Part of me feared something had gone wrong with the TV itself, but the rest of me refused to budge.
Two little slits appeared, lines extending straight up from the bottom-right and racing quickly to the top. They were the antennae of a bug, a cockroach, in silhouette, that skittered over the light. I screamed—but I covered my mouth just in time. Right then, a massive finger came in from the left. It pushed a filmstrip roughly and carelessly over the backlight. The picture was askew. It didn’t even fill the screen. Then the finger disappeared…almost. As it started to withdraw, the screen froze. Three things were hovering there: the finger, the cockroach, and the real terror, the picture. This time I really did scream.
Warning: what I’m about to type is not for the faint of heart. I recount the picture I saw on that filmstrip only to pass on what I still know of The Fifty Names, for purposes of historical preservation. In other words, I am not going to be held responsible for whatever happens next to the more…sensitive readers out there. I may not have graphics, but the words alone could very easily make you sick to your stomach. Or worse. I’m not playing. You. Have. Been. Warned.
The corpse was mired in a deep blue swamp. Most people know this blue as the nighttime sky of the original series’ opening…I know it as his closing, his grave.
He did not even get a funeral.
Mouth wide open, if you could call it a mouth. Brown, rot brown, red, jaw hinge overtaken by blue, and that blue coagulated, just chunks, blue matter, black lichen. He had a tongue still, one shrinking back into the pit, still managing pink underneath little yellow asbestos of mold. Almost no teeth, and I was so glad he had no eyes, could not look at me. Instead I was watched by two holes bored by sheer black rot.
His limbs splayed out for vivisection…I should say, mortisection.
Unnatural pose of a man on an operating table punched with pockmarks that outnumbered the stars, chest no longer sinking and rising but in the last sag between the valleys of the ribcage. Sunken, dry, and fragile. Anything collapsing into anything. Solid fungus, his paw pads. Raw meat now uncovered by brown-paper flesh that can no longer try.
Barely a scrap remains of a single ear white and downy like felt. At his death, he had no ears.
What kind of existential irony is that?
So this was the body exploded. The ancients were right. Brown, yellow, blue, red. This was a ballad of the four humors.
I felt the importance of this like lightning. No reason but feeling.
That number! The number, it should have been 4.
And where was his collar?
Nothing gold can stay.
It froze on this. His corpse, splayed out. For me to see. I would paint this, if I could paint. Trust me, I’ve tried. Who painted this cel? Giger couldn’t do better. Anyone with work this resonant deserves a museum. Impossibly detailed for cartoons. I’ll never replicate it, so, as you saw, I tried with poetry. It’s pretty good though, since I do slam poetry on the weekends. But despite my best efforts, since words are so dissimilar, nothing I write will match up. It’s better this way. Sorry, I had to.
This picture stayed up for fifteen soundless seconds. Then the screen unfroze. The cockroach jolted, ran, and my heart lurched. The hand reached in, took the corpse away. I knew that thing was no longer Scoob; my grieving came and went in those seconds. Therefore, I let the hand take it away. It, the thing that had no name, and if this world were just, it would have had no name from the very beginning, and no great pain either. It deserved no name, for nothing deserves suffering. Yet it was named, as we all are.
And as I blanked out, went mad, I faded into what felt like a great it-ness.
There had been a commercial before the episode. I had seen it. Shaggy and Scooby were in a swamp together. Great big blue swamp. And they were running, chasing swamp creatures together, or the swamp creatures were chasing them—thirty seconds were not enough to convey this story.
I may know soon…I’m on the verge of figuring it out. Whether that was heaven, hell, purgatory, or limbo.
How am I today?
For the most part I’m normal, but thanks to my experiences with a certain Saturday morning cartoon, I have quirks. Most notably, the scar.
When speaking, I try not to refer to “the dog” by name, unless I have to. Sometimes it’s pure respect; other times, strange fear. It’s not that I’m afraid he’s going to die a second time. I get this feeling that he and I are linked, and I’m sure you picked up on this while reading. Soul brothers, blood brothers. Victims in the cage.
I could say more, add to this tale, but you didn’t come here for the story of Me The Author (though I now believe that my story essentially is The Fifty Names). And to that end, I’ll make this brief. Leave you with something empowering, not more sorrow. Because nobody needs to grieve for my childhood.
After the show came counseling, two more doctor’s visits, and, thank God, time apart from my parents, who were deemed unfit (temporarily). My aunt and uncle swooped in and brought me to their huge townhouse, and just as a long summer started. The Fifty Names sparked an obsession with filmmaking, especially short horror films. My aunt and uncle were not only loaded (hence the camcorder), they also provided me with ample crewmembers, i.e. a pile of cousins. Since I was so intense and edgy and could never forget all that I had witnessed, my summers would never again be carefree…yet, with things to do and stories to create, I made needs for myself, and found fulfillment. Thus that summer stands as the best of my still-young life. I’m still filming today.
Afterward came middle school, the bugbear of every kid in the world. Thankfully, I had calmed down by this point. Sure, I was jumpy all the time, a wiseass, and I had loads of cynicism, but I was physically weak, cowardly, and in no position to detonate, for better and for worse. The bullies took my scar as a challenge, targeting me for any and occasionally no reason. I needed to find ways to protect myself, and I was not blessed with a karate club down the street.
I didn’t run away. Nobody has that privilege. Coming of age under the eighth-grade fist, I discovered that it’s not just oppressed vs. oppressor, that we are all oppressed—all of us, us the named.
They had me sliding down a wall, the bullies, skull thundering, feet sliding on the linoleum. My head came to rest on a warm part of the floor where my black blood had come to pool. Bodies stood over me, but each body became first a shadow, then a bar, and they formed a great cage. I had one question—except when I didn’t—since it came at my splintered brain in flashes along with the power to simply think. Could I get out?
It occurred to me to perform an invocation.
I knew about prayer, but I also knew that my protector wasn’t a guardian angel’s hand. It was a paw. And it would not like being called on.
My chattering jaws could still put sentences together but my heart held me back, though the dog was long dead. As the bars of the cage folded in upon me, I thumped my fist against my chest, as if plunging in the knife, because this had to go. This, too, was dead. I shouted, “I’m Scoob.” And like a great dane’s bark, the words sent courage and fury running through my limbs.
I felt strength again—felt that I could rise to my feet, weave through the bars and take off running. I no longer ached—I ached to leave. But my body was pinned to the ground by an invisible force. The bars reached out and found my throat.
My faith never faltered.
The bars had changed. Their hands, instead of taking my life, made strange motions around my body, untying the invisible rope, as if a benevolent word had come over them, commanding them to free this child. But the child was no more, having come of age early with lessons from another world. “SCOOB.” The name was his as much as mine. Something to defend. Something to honor.
Maybe that’s the deeper reason why they don’t rerun The Fifty Names. Turner knows that by producing more iterations of this cartoon—more of the ridiculousness, the laughs without substance—they’re making light of a great tragedy, my traditions, my life. We live in a progressive age of respect, right? I don’t see how there can be no repercussions for this in a civilized society where news is instant and controversy has consequences. Who knows? Maybe Turner’s end is upon them.
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