Channel 120 - Chapter 23: That's Mysterious
by Mark Bollman-->
Channel 120 was written by Mark Bollman--> as his hobby assignment for Winter Camp XVII. It remains the seminal work of Winter Camp Fiction
True to his prediction, Woods was able to assemble the show in ample time for airing on February 1. A private airing for Rand three days earlier had gone well--after a tour of Randland, its owner had been convinced that no harm had been done to the property, and that the mystery could be exploited for better purposes than retribution. Teaser ads for "That's Mysterious!" had run on WCXX for a week, and the city was largely shut down that Sunday night as most people gathered in their homes to watch.
And to record. WCXX's occasional forays into original programming were still enough of a novelty that the keen-eared listener could hear hundreds of VCRs clicking to "Record" whenever a particularly innovative show came out on channel 120. While the multimedia advertising for "That's Mysterious!" had not divulged any of its most curious details, public interest had been piqued, and city gossip had tagged this show as one not to be missed.
The show opened with a voiceover from Rohloff projected over a slow pan of Beaver Lake.
"Beaver Lake. Center of Randland, and a focal point for Lapeer's greatest contribution to the American sports tradition, Capture The Objective. Ah, but what curious mysteries it would speak, if only this ice could talk. The land and ice prepare to surrender their secrets tonight, as community television, WCXX, presents `That's Mysterious!'."
Theme music followed beneath the credits, and when the image changed, viewers saw Rohloff standing outside the BC building. The camera followed him as he paced its length while he spoke.
"Good evening. I'm Eric Rohloff, and I welcome you to `That's Mysterious!' This past December, the WCXX cameras captured some unusual activity down in this part of Randland. While doing routine editing work at the Capture The Objective broadcast center in the northern part of Randland, WCXX engineer Dave Woods detected some intruders on the property. As he was uncertain of their purpose and intentions, he chose not to confront the invaders; but rather preserved their activities on videotape using the Capture The Objective cameras. Through this fortunate accident, and with the full cooperation of Jeff Rand, insurance agent and owner of Randland, we are able to bring to you this selection of the events of late last December."
Following the first round of commercials--which, as per Kestamov's preference, Rand had not sponsored--Rohloff returned to the screen and began to narrate the cross-country golf segment of the show.
"Due to the positioning of the cameras, it was not possible to preserve an audio track of what went on, but from the images preserved here, we can make an effort to reconstruct what was happening as 1997 drew to a close. Here we see one of the many athletic events which took place over the five-day observation period. A game of golf, but it's golf played in the snow and, to all appearances, without any true course. We've taken to calling it `cross-country' golf, and as you watch, you'll understand why that name is especially apt."
An instrumental rock music background flooded the air as the golf match came on the screen. The background music had been considerably controversial as the program was being assembled, with Woods and Rohloff favoring some sort of musical score while Archer, who'd wormed her way onto the project as an editor, preferred to let the ambient silence on the tapes or Rohloff's continuous narration provide the soundtrack. Rohloff had argued that the world wasn't ready to listen to him continuously for an hour, and Woods added that long stretches of silence wouldn't be any better. The argument had boiled down to a definition of the program's role--was it entertainment or information? The entertainment faction won out, and the WCXX music library was tapped for background.
The music faded slightly as Belmont prepared to strike the ball and Rohloff explained the scene. "Here you see one of the invaders actually hitting a golf ball toward a body of water. Under normal circumstances, of course, a good golfer wants to avoid water at all costs, but when the temperature's down around seventeen degrees, you can get a lot of extra distance by using the laws of nature to your advantage." He finished just as Belmont hit his shot and the ball bounced wildly across the lake and out of the camera's view. The Winter Camp crew raced after it as Rohloff continued, "Nonetheless, it's just as important to keep your eye--and a lot of other eyes--on the ball!"
Following the golf clip, Rohloff was seen standing on the ice dribbling a regulation red rubber kickball. "For many of you, this is the first time you've seen a kickball in a long time," he said. "But to this group of hardy athletes, kickball is just another winter sport. And they played it right here--on the ice."
As the music rose again, the kickball game appeared on televisions across Lapeer. Because this was the most stunning material which Woods had captured, the program included nearly every second of kickball that was at all usable.
After a second round of ads, Rohloff and Woods were shown in the Randland studio. Woods proceeded to describe the circumstances which led to his Winter Camp discovery. Midway through the interview, Rohloff brought up the matter of Woods' nighttime excursion.
"Dave, we've already spoken to the difficulties you had in preserving an audio record of this event. But you had one even more daunting challenge to overcome, didn't you?"
"That's right. I also had to deal with serious lighting deficiencies. As you know, the CTO cameras aren't rigged with lights, so the only nighttime action I managed to capture was from the camera near the Beaver Creek building, where the cabin lights were on and things were decently lit up. Mostly just people coming and going--my guess is that they did a lot of hiking after dark."
"But you did make one additional effort to find out what went on after dark--one rather daring excursion."
"True. On December 30, I was watching them live when it became clear that they'd be going out for another night hike. I had the helmet-cams from Capture The Objective available, so I put one on and tried to follow them."
"And here's what you saw," said Rohloff. A largely dark image filled the screen. Shadowy human forms occasionally crossed in and out of Woods' path, but no faces were recognizable.
Woods' voice described the setting. "I was a couple hundred feet behind them, careful not to get too close--I still wasn't sure what sort of people I was dealing with--until they got to this pavilion here. They headed into the forest and took this battered path that went almost straight uphill. That's where I had to abandon my quest--I wasn't dressed for a long tough hike through the snow. More importantly, I couldn't follow them closely enough without running too great a risk of discovery. So I pulled back and tried to shoot them as they came back from wherever it was they were going."
A daytime view of the craft center replaced the dark footage on the screen. "How long were you waiting?" asked Rohloff.
"About half an hour. Maybe a little longer. I heard something that sounded like really faint singing--I was on the roof at the time, looking into the woods. Much like you see right now, except that it was dark then. Completely dark--it was an overcast night."
As Woods spoke, the image reverted to his helmet-cam work. "This is the helmet-cam," said Rohloff, "so the image is shaky. We can't show you too much, but the important part of the video record is coming up." The Arrowmen emerged from the forest, and home viewers watched the result of Woods' efforts to track them.
"And that's as close as we've come to any really useful identification," said Rohloff. "We'll be back after this with some ideas on who might be responsible for this, and some more hidden videos."
The show returned back out at Randland, where Rohloff sat on the front porch at Beaver Creek. "This is where our invaders stayed while they were here. Dave Woods captured the first images on December 27, and coming up you'll see them leaving on the 31st, so we know they were here for at least five days. How long had they been here? That remains an open question. Also open are the most fundamental questions of all: `Who?' and `Why?'. All we know for sure is that this was an athletic crew, but why did they choose to invade Randland to play some really strange winter sports? With the record cold weather we've had this winter, frozen lakes for kickball can be found just about anywhere; and as for cross-country golf, any golf course in the area would seem to be a better spot."
Rohloff got up and began walking around the Beaver Creek-Clearwater area. "The intruders left no traces of their presence here. As you will see in our next clip, they were extremely careful to clean up this area."
Following a minute or so of musically accompanied cleaning, Rohloff continued, "Were they aware that they were being taped? And if that were the case, how did they find out? As you can see from this shot"--the image switched to a picture of one of the CTO cameras--"the cameras we use are so small as to be essentially undetectable unless you know what you're looking for and where it is."
Rohloff's face reappeared. "One thing does seem clear: whether or not they knew what Dave Woods was doing, they probably aren't local invaders. Anyone from around here seeking to invade Randland would be aware of the cameras, and since this is the only area which is under any kind of surveillance, it would seem reasonable to suspect that they'd avoid here. Randland comprises 1470 acres--there's plenty of room to outrun a few isolated cameras."
"One theory that has been suggested by Dave Woods himself is that these people might have some connection to the defunct Boy Scouts of America. As we all know, Randland was once used by the Detroit Area Council of the BSA as a camp. Unfortunately, we cannot safely investigate this possibility. All of the BSA's records--which would in any case have been of little use--are completely sealed. Moreover, it seems genuinely unlikely that anyone would reveal his connections to that organization. Jeff Rand had this to say about that possibility."
Rand's face appeared next, in a clip shot at his office. "When the Moral Reform Act was passed in 1995, the Boy Scouts fell into extreme disfavor. While this was only a little over a year and a half ago, it is truly stunning that all traces of that group have vanished from sight so completely and so rapidly. I am as familiar as anyone with the rumors that the Scouts live on in an underground alliance, but after seeing what the new morality has done to re-shape American values, I believe that we can safely rule out any chance that any Scouts are responsible for what happened last year. I can't imagine that anybody would risk that kind of exposure, public humiliation, and eventual destruction just to play a little ice kickball. And if anyone knows anything, they aren't talking."
"Jeff Rand, owner of Randland," said Rohloff as the camera returned to the BC building. The scene was replaced by more takedown and departure shots. "So, what happened here during the last days of 1997? We know when and where, and have some excellent evidence of what; but that still leaves who, why, and how from the reporter's question arsenal unanswered. As to whether we can eventually answer those questions, only time will tell. I'm Eric Rohloff, and this has been `That's Mysterious!'. Good night."
The camera pulled back, centering Rohloff in its view, until he was replaced by a montage of Winter Camp images running under the closing credits.