I grew up as a child in the 90's, and my days after school were filled with Nicktoons.
Flash forward fifteen years, or so, and I am browsing the movie section at a local Walmart when I am hit with a wall of nostalgia. Sitting on the shelf is the complete series of Hey Arnold. I have a shitty job however, and they want $20, which in my mind just translates to two hours of work. I decide to be incredibly cheap, and instead go home to YouTube some episodes to satisfy my urge to remember when times were simple.
It was a mistake I won't soon forget.
I get home, pop some popcorn, power up my laptop, and begin the search. With a simple click every episode lay before me. Satisfied I begin to watch, episode by episode. It was well into dark, and I was about to close to the laptop, when I noticed a video in the suggested video list that simply read, "Hey Arnold! LE!". Sure that "LE" must've stood for "lost episode" or something I clicked on the video excited to see an episode I never had before.
At the time, I didn't see any problems. After all, those stories of people seeing terrifying lost episodes of their favorite shows were just stories... Right?
When the page opened it said in the box that the video had been removed, with that half assed "sorry not sorry" frowning red box staring at me. Further curious at this point I scrolled down to the comments section for clues. There weren't that many views so, unsurprisingly, there were only a few comments. The first two more or less expressed horror and confusion as to what they had just watched, but the third comment caught my eye.
It was from the original poster of the video, and he explained the video had been removed, but it could still be watched on his site, and provided a link. I always had a fear of those believing it'd be a virus, but, pounding curiosity getting the better of me, decided to click anyway.
It led me to a site of which I can't remember the name. It seemed typical. Basic layout with tabs, and ads. In the middle however was a small box to click on with a play arrow. I clicked, and the video went full screen and began to play. I began to ease from my paranoia, and set back as I thought I was about to have a chapter of cartoon memories added to my collection.
I had no idea what followed was nothing short of terrifying, and would rock me to the very core.
The video started out with a simple text that read: "What you are about to watch is what creators of the hit show 'Hey Arnold!' intended to be the original series finale. It angered and frightened Nickelodeon executives, and the episode was never aired as such. If you cannot handle disturbing and potentially vomit-inducing imagery, then you are suggested to leave."
"YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED."
I was concerned by this, but pushed it from my mind as the upbeat jazz tempo rang out, and the theme song began.
It was introduced as: The Furnace.
The show itself started out with Arnold's teacher with the class outside teaching them about chemical reactions, and using them to launch a rocket. Harold expresses he wants to launch the rocket, but the teacher declines saying there is no time, and leaves to put up the supplies as the bell rings. It then cuts to Harold, Sid, and Stinky opening the supply cabinet, stealing some rockets and the chemicals, and walking out vowing to make a "big blast off".
It's at this point I begin to realize something. This episode looks familiar. I get on my phone, do a little research, and quickly find that this is an episode that aired with the final season of the show. I am beyond pissed, but decide to watch anyways since I figure my computer is already infested with whatever virus the page carried anyhow.
I clicked play again. The boys have stolen the supplies, and have went behind an abandoned police station to blow the rocket which, coincidentally, Ernie (one of Arnold's tenants who is a demolition man) is set to destroy by explosives. The boys launch the rocket, and it goes in the building which blows up due to the demolition. The boys stupidly believe it was their rocket that did the damage (thus killing several police officers who didn't know the station was abandoned), and they are now wanted fugitives.
This is where things began to get really strange.
The video paused shortly. I moved my arrow to reveal that indeed the video was still playing. Soon it began again, only now the quality had changed. It seemed like a cutover.
Stinky knelt on the ground, crying, exclaiming that they should go to the police. Harold berates him for this claiming they will be sentenced to the death penalty. "We just killed the police, you idiot!", he screams, clearly angry.
I should add at this point I am becoming confused and uneasy. I am a die-hard fan of the series, and can't recall any of this.
The scene continues as Stinky begins to walk off, sobbing, and claiming he plans to find the nearest police officer to tell him what happened as it was only a mistake. Harold becomes enraged, as he often does in the show, but this time he charges Stinky and tackles him from behind. Stinky begins to put up a fight, but is no match for the much larger boy especially since he is face first on the sidewalk. "Sid", Harold yells, "Help!". Sid runs in front of the action, clearly confused and scared, and asks what he wants him to do.
"That rock, grab it". Sid looks down as the struggle continues, and sees a large rock laying by a dumpster. He hesitates. "Do it", Harold commands, "or I'll pound you!". Clearly terrified at this point Sid picks up the rock. You can see Sid's eyes grow large, and resistance sets in, as Harold says, "Ok Sid, I'll hold him, while you bash his skull with the rock". Sid can't move as Stinky lay there with a scraped up face from the struggle, desperately begging for his life while sobbing uncontrollably.
Harold begins to plead to Sid, and tells him if Stinky got away they would never see their parents again. "You mixed the chemicals! You're just as responsible as I am", Harold screams, "Kill him!" Sid drops to his knees, brings the rock above his head, and begins to bash Stinky's brains in. He closes his eyes, tears flowing around them, and screams "I'm sorry" over and over all the while continously smashing Stinky's head with the rock.
He brings the rock down one last time. He sits back, chin tucked down in pure guilt as Harold breathes heavily, finally able to rest on top of the lifeless body below him. They sit there a moment in silence when Sid simply whispers, "I'm sorry".
They hear police sirens in the background, and not knowing it's unrelated to them, Harold begins to panic. Sid, still crying, begins to ask frantically what they should do. Harold says they need to get out of there. They throw Stinky's body in a dumpster, and hightail it out of there, Stinky's blood still freshly pooled on the alleyway sidewalk.
They run until Sid sees what he believes to be their salvation, Arnold's house. They climb in through a window that drops into the basement. They scramble around, and hide when they hear the door at the top of the stairs open. Harold hides behind some boxes, and Sid hides beside the stairs. He sits with his knees up to his chest, and head between knees as if broken.
Arnold comes through the door exclaiming to his grandpa that he is going to do some laundry, and begins descending the stairs not knowing that he is not alone. He reaches the end of the stairs, and hears something behind him. He turns to find Sid sitting there crying with his head between his knees. Arnold appears confused, and a little on edge.
"Sid", Arnold asks, "is that you"?
"We killed him Arnold", Sid says softly in a whimper, "we killed Stinky and left his body in the garbage. No God will forgive us now".
Cleary in shock and scared out of his mind, Arnold is unable to call for help. Then he hears it. Footsteps approaching from behind, and then rage induced breathing so close he can almost feel it as the footsteps cease. He turns slowly and stares into the eyes of Harold who beams down on him with irritation and anger.
It changes scene to Arnold being tied to a chair with duct tape around his mouth as you hear the upstairs door opening. You can see the fear in his eyes as muffled screams desperately try to escape the tape. Grandpa comes down the steps, and (probably due to some senility as is often played on in the show) believes Arnold is just playing a game. He talks about the game, and he laughs as he exits out the door; laughing about the imagination of youth; as Arnold struggles against his restraints, and mutely screams for his life to deaf ears.
He has no idea it will be the last time he will see his grandson alive.
Just playing a game.
Out of the back you can see the boys exit from under the staircase. It cuts to a point of view from Arnold as he stairs into the dimly lit basement. Sid and Harold enter the shot from each side, and stare at down at Arnold. Sid looks scared as he shakily asks Harold what they will do.
Harold looks at Arnold with that same angry look on his face and says, "I'm sorry Arnold, but no one is sending me to jail".
The screen goes black.
It opens up with a downshot of the basement as Harold closes the door to the furnace. The chair sits empty now with the rope cut up and lying on the floor. Some blood is on the chair, and floor around it. Sid kneels on the ground absolutely crying. "How could we do this? They were our friends!" Harold appears to feel little guilt as he explains to Sid that they had to do it or they would have been locked up.
The next little bit of the show is a mashup of Sid crying, Harold pacing wondering what to do, and Sid looking at a knife of Grandpa's sitting on the workbench with almost a look of acceptance on his face.
It is then you hear a slicing sound, and worried, Harold rushes over and looks beside the staircase. There, leaned against the wall, is Sid with his throat slit in a gruesome suicide.
Harold looks at the scene in shock at first, and then spiteful determination as he claims to his dead friend, "Fine. I'll do it alone then!!".
He then hears loud conversation coming from upstairs just beyond the door, and worried it may be someone inquiring about Arnold he sneaks up the stairs to listen. But no mention of Arnold is made. Instead he hears Ernie bragging to the rest of the tenants how he'd blown up an old abandoned police station that day. It took a minute for Harold's dull mind to register it.
Then the tears began.
His head flooded with guilt as he realized he murdered two of his friends that day, and lost another, simply due to a misunderstanding. He walked down the steps, and sat on the last one. He hung his head in pure shame.
The scene opens to an over the shoulder view of Grandpa as he opens the basement door. He shouts to Arnold that dinner is ready, and gets no response as he notices the chair at the bottom of the stairs is empty. He descends the stairs, and when he gets closer notices the rope and blood surrounding the chair. He finishes his descent fixated on the chair, and stands next to it staring in confusion and worry.
He double glances around the room looking for Arnold when his eyes fixate on something a few feet in front of him. It's Harold, hanging from the ceiling, swaying back and forth ever so slightly. Grandpa moves toward Harold in shock unable to express any emotion. As he nears him he puts his hand up to touch Harold almost as if to ensure what he is seeing is real.
Before he touches Harold he notices something behind the boy and to the right. A folded up piece of paper taped to the furnace. He approaches the furnace slowly, afraid to find more horrors, and retrieves the note.
It simply reads: "Aren't you glad it was just a game?"
The camera cuts to inside the furnace, facing out, and is pitch black as the door is closed. You can see part of Grandpa through three rectangular holes that act as a vent. The furnace latch unlocks loudly. The door creaks open slowly. Grandpa's jaw closes, and begins to quiver as he stares at what lay inside. The only hint given is a hand with a sleeve the same color of Arnold's shirt pulled up, and the hand and sleeve slightly soaked with blood. You look in Grandpa's eyes as he presumably looks upon his only grandson, the only remnants of his long deceased son, as he lay mutilated in the furnace.
The video cuts to black.
I closed the window, and slammed my laptop shut as a small part of my diminishing childhood died.
Everything was normal after that. I never researched the video, or tried to find it again. I just really didn't care to as I figured it was a lousy (albeit disturbing) knockoff made by some overweight nobody in his mother's basement.
After a couple weeks, however, I decided to buy the series (determined to not let my childhood be destroyed by one incident). Sometimes my internet connection was shoddy at best. I begin to watch episode after episode until I came upon one in the last season. It was titled 'On the Lam'. It was the episode the "knockoff" was based on (or vice versa perhaps). I didn't remember much from the episode. But as it played I began to feel disturbed.
The similarities between the two were gut wrenching. I mean the episodes were the same until the police station was blown up, but even after that there were still eerie parallels. Firstly, after the explosion, Stinky was the only one who suggested going to the authorities. Next Arnold was being tied up in his basement, completely furnished with workbench and furnace mind you, by the three boys. At the moment though he only expresses irritance and slight anger.
Then slightly later in the show it happens. That scene. That same damn scene.
Grandpa enters the basement, and talks about the game Arnold is playing. But it is obvious to anyone who is not crazy that Arnold is not playing a game, and the look of irritance from earlier is gone. The expression on his face now is nothing short of pure, heart-pounding, fucking terror. He shrieks the way only a 9 year old knowing death is upon him can, but once again it is smothered by the duct tape as grandpa closes the door... darkening the basement once again.
Except no one dies in this version.
It was as if the scene had been left there. Cut short, and repurposed for the children's version, and it made me wonder if the video could be true. If maybe the show creator, infuriated by the cancellation of his show, initially had a much darker ending planned for the blonde headed boy with the football shaped head.
Later Arnold comes crashing through the basement door, and begins explaining everything to his Grandpa.
But in the back of my mind I think, "That's not Arnold. Arnold is still in the basement, dead in the furnace..."