I'm sure everybody knows about Charlie Brown. If you haven't seen the program on television at some point, you have have caught the VHS tapes that float around bargain bins in the United States.
If not that, you might have seen it in a classroom, as teachers love to show the family friendly television programming to their students. It was in late August of 2013 that I came across a particularly strange episode of the Charlie Brown show in a VHS slipcase that was for "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown", a Halloween episode many people are familiar with.
It was in my grandparents' attic which I found while I was staying in their home in Minneanapolis. I heard that Charles Schultz, creator of Peanuts, grew up in Minneanapolis just a few miles from this summer home.
The actual VHS inside the tape was blank and very old, with marker scrawling "ItGPCB Take 2" and some Japanese or Chinese characters beneath that which seem to have been printed out of some strange ink block. What's strange is that whoever had drawn a pumpkin and apple blossom tree beneath those letters had signed it with the initials "TD".
After some research I found that there were no people in or around Warner Bros. or any of the other associated companies that would have worked on this episode with those initials. It all seemed kind of strange. I posted on a few forums about the episode, but got no responses as to what the episode could be about.
I don't own a VHS-to digital video converter, so there was no way to put the episode onto the computer. Weirdly enough, the real title was "It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown". Many of those VHS tapes had promos for other shows at the beginning, but this looked like some kind of rough cut. I heard the usual Peanuts theme as Charlie Brown walked out of his house with a baseball cap on. Something seemed a little odd about the show, as some weird black lines had spurled up from the corners of the screen that looked like spider legs.
It was very distracting, but I assumed maybe this episode was meant to start as a dream sequence, as the sky was orange. The camera crawls up and moves to the right in a very jerky and forced manner, as though a huge matte painting that animators used was being forcibly moved out of frame. Snoopy was at 1/3 transparency, eating a bag of peanuts. He looks really nauseated, as though there's something in his water bowl that's making him ill.
The little bird (I don't remember its name) is seen laying on the floor with its legs in the air. I thought it might have been dead, which would have been bizarre, but one leg was twitching spasmodically as the camera cut to snoopy carving a pumpkin. There was a serious graphicness to the pumpkin carving which seemed more stylized than the usual simple animation style.
Snoopy carved a pumpkin to resemble Charlie Brown's head, then put a candle inside the pumpkin. The video stopped there, froze and I heard the peanuts theme playing but several keys were being hit wrong. I myself am a professional pianist and could tell that many of the notes were being hit a few notes over for some reason, and it didn't seem intentional. Snoopy carved a cut into Charlie Brown's face, and put a candle inside, and left the pumpkin there.
A time lapse showed the pumpkin slowly withering, rotting, decaying and dying as the candle burned away Charlie Brown's facial features, leaving a skeletal pumpkin that soon became covered in flies and rotted down to nothing.
The next scene just showed Charlie Brown heading to school down the linear path as though the last scene hadn't happened.
Charlie Brown was missing a shoe and his leg was brown colored, it was a very specific detail that I noticed. What's weird is that he knocks at the front door of the school before he is invited in, I've never heard of someone knocking to enter school.
Charlie Brown sits down next to Linus and takes out a brown paper bag lunch.
All of a sudden Charlie Brown's eyes grow exceptionally wide.
"There she is." He says. "The girl with the red hair."
Indeed, Charlie Brown's school crush was one of the major plot points that the show addressed. "I bet one day." Charlie Brown started.
"I'll go up to her, and approach her, and I'll do something that impresses her, and she'll KISS me."
Little cartoon hearts bubbled up around Charlie Brown while he held his hands together and leaned into them, smiling.
He looked a little off. Linus was holding his blanket, but there was a picture of the United States scrawled on it for some reason. "I don't know, Charles. Men, well, boys in our case, shouldn't romanticize such things."
What's weird is that I never heard anyone refer to Charlie Brown as Charles on the show before. The red haired girl crossed the room in kind of a ghastly manner as Charlie Brown opened his paper bag lunch, which contained a peanut butter sandwich with peanuts with a highly stylized drawing of George Washington Carver, inventor of the peanut on the cover.
Charlie Brown seemed a little different in the next scene. He looks a little grizzled, maybe slightly older. He has some dust on his face that looks kind of like beard stubble.
The room is full of puddles and puddles of water and there are dead flies everywhere. The plants near the window are dead, too. Charlie Brown walks up to his teacher, and the usual brass noises are made, but Charlie couldn't understand them.
"What?" he said, to the sound of the off key trumpet or trombone.
Indeed, Charlie couldn't understand. "I think I have some kind of learning difficulty." Charlie said, looking at his shoes sadly. Pig Pen walked up.
"She said that something in the water is making everyone ill, and we need to drink this bottled water for the next two weeks."
What's weird is that at the time of Peanuts' syndication, bottled water was not even in circulation yet.
The label wasn't specifically drawn, but it looked kind of like a Zephyr Hills bottle. Charlie Brown went into a shed with broken windows and took out a notebook. He had seen the girl with the Red Hair drop it that morning, but he couldn't get in close enough to reach her.
His heart skipped a beat when he read what was written.
"June 24th, 1967 There's a boy at school that I find really handsome, I think his name is Charlie I saw him smile at me from across the cafeteria I want nothing more than to hug him And maybe plant my lips on him And he can smell my hair, while I-"
All of a sudden there was some loud bang. It was the sound of a rock hitting shed.
"What are you doing in there?!" It was Lucy. I guessed all the kids were supposed to be playing football, as Lucy was shown squeezing a football.
"Hurry up you fussbudget!" she yelled.
What's weird is that a grown Asian businessman is shown walking in the background. From what I know about the show, you never saw the adult characters' heads, so it confused me something terrible. The grown Asian man started to talk as the brass started up, but the camera immediately cut to the right of the screen as the kids were playing football.
Lucy lined the football up for Charlie Brown to kick it. This was a common gag. Whenever Charlie went to kick the football, Lucy would pull it away and Charlie would keel over.
"Ok. Ready." Charlie Brown ran toward the football but just as Lucy would pull it away he continued to run out into the field.
"What are you doing, Charlie Brown?" Linus yelled.
He saw the red haired girl climbing onto a bus way out in the field. He chased her across the field just as the bus pulled away, leaving him there, alone.
"No one was even there, Charlie Brown." Linus said. Charlie sighed. A rock hit his head, rather hard, as Lucy had thrown it at his head, I guess since she didn't get the satisfaction of pulling the football away.
"Ow!" Charlie cried, and blood began to drip down his head.
"What is that?!" Yelled Linus Van Pelt. Evidently none of the characters in the Peanuts universe seemed to know what blood was. Charlie put his hand over the wound, as Lucy opened a first aid kit to find nothing inside.
The next scene showed Charlie Browns' head stitched shut with what looked like the same stitches used on baseballs.
"I have to find that red haired girl." Charlie said.
"I'm running out of time. He looked at his wristwatch, which appeared to be drawn on with the time "8:16 AM". There was a shot of Snoopy as the red baron, but here he was in a B-29 bomber for some reason. Hmm. The next shot was of all of the kids at a school dance.
Charlie was fumbling from within the crowd, trying to get to the red haired girl. She was turned around behind the fruit punch bowl.
"I'm gonna approach her." Charlie said.
Linus was holding a massive occult book he had checked out from the library.
"I think I figured it out Charlie." He said, sucking his thumb.
"There's a demon from Japanese folklore, called the Yuri-Onna. This demon takes the form of what you want the most."
Charlie didn't seem to be listening.
"And once it finds you, it-"
Charlie walked up to the girl at the fruit punch and circled around her, but she kept turning around. He couldn't get a view of her face.
"Don't touch her, Charlie Brown!" his childhood friend screamed, but Charlie wasn't listening.
"It's just a projection of your mind, Charles! It's something you think you want, and it will kill you!"
A shot of Linus going up to another grown Asian man was shown.
This time as he talked, I heard the off-kilter brass, but it slowly began to roll backwards, as if an orchestra was getting into tune.
I heard the words "I have become death, destroyer of worlds." as an explosion rocked the building and bright lights shot outside. I guess it was meant to be fireworks.
There was fruit punch all over the floor, but it looked like blood.
Charlie brown tripped on it, fell and you saw a halo as he slid through the door before the tape popped and recut. Now Charlie was running through a field which was unfamiliar to anyone that I remembered seeing on the show.
He chased the red haired girl way, way out into the field while pictures of feet, hair, broken lightbulbs skulls and baseball bats were carved into the trees. The trees became more and more narrow, representing a hallway after a while, while Charlie Brown had to squeeze through.
There was what could have been blood, fruit punch or some other foreign material which Charlie became completely covered in as he chased the girl with the red hair through a snowy area. "I don't have much time." he thought.
"I'm getting old. I have to get that kiss, I have to reach her, I have to-"
He chased the red haired girl through the snow, before realizing he was lost in a forest outside of wherever the town in Peanuts was supposed to be. Charlie's eyes widened heavily and disturbingly as the picture distorted now.
They widened and widened, becoming more intense, like silly putty pressed to a Peanuts comic strip being slowly twisted and contorted to match someone's warped image. They wiggled and wavered as though they were underwater as he came to a steep cliff overlooking a lake.
There was a red wig stuck to a bloodied stump. He chased the beautiful red haired girl, before she turned around, revealing two bright demonic red eyes which pierced through the low quality editing of the Peanuts tape, before she fell backwards, down, down into the water as Charlie tried to grab her shoulder.
Charlie Brown the kissless and broken dove into the shallow pool in an attempt to resuscitate what he thought was her. He dove deep, deep down into the water, pulling her up as she coughed up water and blood. Even though she was unconscious, as he went into kiss her she reeled back in horror, like a deer in the headlights.
Was he so abhorrent a creature? He withdrew and then went in again, lip pressed to lip as he blew into her lungs, sending her coughing up blood, and as she became conscious she kissed him, and they both kissed there, for hours on end it seemed as the time lapse showed hours passing and apple blossoms falling from the nearby trees.
Bright lights that stunned both their eyes exploded in the background.
I thought that was the end of this bizarre episode as the screen faded.
But the final shot was more stylized, with a very realistic "HAVE YOU SEEN ME" drawing stuck to a poster on the wall of the school, with a picture of Charlie Brown on it. "We don't go missing like this." Linus said, with a sigh.
"It just doesn't happen. I just want to know what happened to my best friend."
A shot of flashlights resembling a search party took up the final few segments of the shot, before the camera zoomed through the trees, to a lake.
It was a shot of a toothless Charlie Brown laying there, frozen, blue, dead. His teeth were shown buried in some rotted carved stump with red hairs around it. His shirt was torn, there were visible lascerations around his neck. There were 'X's in his eyes, but not cartoon 'X's. They looked like...stitches. Dirty brown leaves surrounded him. In his hand was a ripped heart valentine card, and in his heart there was nothing.